Two reports on books on bisexuality today – not reviews exactly, rather some observations about them…
Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics is by Jennifer Baumgardner. She’s prominent in the Third Wave feminist movement that seems to be quite lively in the US.
[On one British feminist mailing list I am on, come International Women’s Day, US feminists who happen to be in London always ask why they can’t find out what’s happening. Answer, always, comes there none: nothing is happening, that’s why. If there is anything it’s usually along the lines of “Businesswoman’s association tells you how to reach empowerment through setting up a highly profitable pampering organisation”. Which, to me, isn’t feminism at all. Of course, some sort of feminist movement does exist – see the Observer Woman section of the Observer newspaper section this Sunday (perhaps it will be online too, via www.guardian.co.uk) where a range of young feminists aged 19-26 talk about what they are doing. Heartening stuff. Still and all, feminism is in a lull before an inevitable storm comes up in the future. Politics goes in cycles, I believe.]
Look Both Ways is a memoir first and foremost – reminiscences about Baumgardner's own experience of bisexuality and how it has and hasn’t fitted in to her life and where it does and doesn’t fit into feminism. She also interviews some famous feminists of the 60s and 70s era to see how having relationships with women was seen and the impact it had on those feminists who had them. But her main argument, I suppose, is that young women these days are embracing a certain sort of light-hearted bisexuality as a positive way-station to being a complete person. Hmm… possibly. Some of them.
What it isn’t about is about bisexual politics. Although she mentions prominent bi activists Robyn Ochs and Lani Ka’ahumanu(both of whom are feminists who have edited books on bisexuality), and the organisation BiNet, she never once mentions the Bi community. I find that baffling… It seems as if she only perceives of the politics of bisexuality within the feminist movement. Indeed, she seems quite clear that there is no bi movement, even though she lives in New York City where I would have thought the most casual search would have found her a group.
Bi America: Myths, Truths and Struggles of an Invisible Community, by William Burleson, is the polar opposite of this – being only about the bi community – in particular in the Minneapolis-St Paul area where the writer lives. Indeed, it discusses exactly what it says on the cover. I just wonder about the many bi people who aren’t in that community: what do they think? “Bi people” and the “bi community” are not synonymous terms, even in the US. Of course, he does mention this, and mentions where else you might find bi people, what exactly the community consists of and where it’s going to. I suppose trying to find out what these “non-community” even more invisible bisexuals think is one of my own hobbyhorses. There’s a lot in here and it certainly would be a helpful book for someone coming out as bi or their loved ones who want to understand them.
These books are also both “very American” – relevant only up to a point to people who aren’t in the US. They’re both enjoyable, interesting and readable books, but they feel to me like they’re written about a very foreign country.